The Ideaction Blog

Why building a business is like training for the Ironman

Posted by Kelly O'Brien on June 3, 2013

* Or how preparing for 140 miles of pain might just help you become an entrepreneur.

Right now I have two full time vocations. I’m building a business and I am training for Ironman Wisconsin.  And it has become increasingly clear that these pursuits are completely related, and success requires the same stuff. Here are ten things that help with both:

  1. Vision – The power of thought should never be underestimated. Visualizing what success looks like for you– and thinking about it -- is critical in business and in Ironman training. Success is more likely if you are working and training towards something. I think about what my business looks like “in heaven.” How my race goes in heaven. I daydream about these visions constantly.
  2. Faith – Believing I can do something that I have no proof I can do takes a leap of faith. Faith is the only antidote to fear. Faith in myself yes, but also faith that something out there is rooting for me, helping all the pieces come together in the way they are meant to.  If you I believe in miracles, in magic, in a higher power of some sort (any sort!), the suffering becomes a LOT easier. I have found this to be true in training, in business and in life.
  3. Action – Knowing where you want to go is half the battle, but unless you map out the course and drive, your vision is going to stay in dream state. A clear plan that you can break into manageable action steps helps. I tend to struggle here, opting far too often for the meandering scenic route. For Ironman, I use Training Peaks- my coach inputs the daily action steps I need to take in order to follow the training plan. Each day I track my progress and note my victories. In business I have not been nearly as disciplined. It is time for me to pull the business plan back out and start monitoring and celebrating my milestones!
  4. Help – We all need help. Sometimes you just need to pull over and ask for directions. Get a community of support. A coach. An advisory board.  On the days when your faith is hard to find and the motivation to take the action is lacking, it helps to tap in to people who have been there before and who can relate. For me, role models that demonstrate what “the other side” of the challenge looks like and help me navigate both the plan and the doubts in my head have been a saving grace. For Ironman, I train with Chicago Endurance Sports, book a weekly one-on-one swim lesson, regular physical therapy, and I'm starting to work with a bike coach on a computrainer.  For business, Ideaction has a Corps of believers and advisors, I am building a formal Advisory Board, and I have a small group of mentors that I rely on to help troubleshoot and encourage me.
  5. Purpose – It’s really hard for me to do things without purpose.  Finishing a race for the sake of it just does not cut it. Growing a business just to have a job does not do it for me. I’m training for Ironman because I want to feel what it is like to optimize my health, my fitness – my heart.  I want to meet people who say YES! to challenges and risks and do the hard work (which is also, conveniently, my purpose with business). It helps to have a purpose that is outside of me too—I’m dedicating my training to Thresholds, and raising money to support them.  With Ideaction Corps – I want to help my YES! people collaborate to make the world a better place.
  6. Gear – My dad used to say, “It takes money to make money.”  As scrappy as I can be, I’ve come to see the truth in that. Building Ideaction Corps takes a computer, a printer, some software, an accountant, a bookkeeper, a little swag, and a website to start- not a lot, but the basics. Similarly, Ironman requires a bike, a wetsuit, registration and training fees, good running shoes, a watch, and all sorts of “gear” I never knew I needed. My living room is both my office and my sports locker. And I love it.  Invest in some basic, quality gear. Yes, it is an up front cost, but the ROI is excellent.
  7. Belly Fire – In business or in Ironman, you gotta really want it.  And I mean burn for it. It’s what keeps you going. It’s what fuels the determination and persistence.

 You put me in a race where there's a lot on the line, especially when people tell me 'you can't win', or 'you're too small', you tell me those things and I'll find a way to prove you wrong.   Mirinda Carfrae

  1. Heart Rate Monitor – Not to be confused with pace.  Pace is an external measure of how fast you are moving over the ground. Heart rate measures your internal level of effort.  In Ironman (and business building), unlike shorter races, this generally means sticking in Zone 2, the endurance zone-- 20- 30 beats below your race pace. It’s the fuel conservation zone that allows for sustained effort over a long period of time. Sure, you take it up a notch at the end,  or before a big business milestone for example, but if you try to run at race pace for very long you are going to hit the wall. In business they call it burn out.  In races they call it bonking. If you are in it for the long haul, learn to maintain a sustainable level of effort. 

 Success in the sport is, above all else, about enduring suffering."  Chris McCormack, Two-time Iron Man World Champion

  1. Rest and Recovery--  My Ironman training adds up to about 14 hours this week, and it will steadily climb. But regardless of the number of hours in a week each week always includes a day off.  Your body and your mind both need a break. I am a big believer in meditation. In walks. And most of all, in naps! YaY naps! We all need a break to rest and recover. Book a few less meetings. Extend a few deadlines. What is the hurry?  Give yourself some space to do nothing and you’ll actually add more hours to your day.
  2. Presence-- In business building and Ironman, it helps to just be where you are. Look around. Be grateful. Accept yourself. Enjoy the moment.  Last Saturday my training group took a trip up to Madison to bike the hills. I am slower on the bike than I want to be – it is hard for me to keep up with the others. Here is what I found: when going up a hill, if I just focus on my cadence and on my progress and notice the view, it does not hurt as much. The second I start to worry about catching up someone else I’m in pain.  Same with business. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t worry if you have not taken all of the “10 steps to launching a start-up” steps.  Just focus on being the best you can be each day.

If you are training for Ironman or you’ve done one before, you might want to consider starting your own business.  In fact, I bet if someone collected the data, we’d find that the percentage of Ironman finishers who started/run their own business is pretty high.  And if you are an entrepreneur who thinks they don’t have stuff of Ironman -- hell, I’d put my money down you could nail that 140 miles and smile across the finish line because in your heart, you know what it takes. Either way, in Ironman or launching a start up, here is the thing:

 You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a week or you can quit and your mind will hurt for a lifetime.  Mark Allen, Six Time Iron Man World Champion

Kelly O'Brien is the President and Founder of Ideaction Corps, a full service social change agency whose clients include companies and causes doing good. She's passionate about helping people and organizations find the path to work with purpose, big ideas and infecting grace. She can be reached at @kellymobrien or @ideactioncorps on Twitter, or via the Ideaction Corps website.

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Vacation Rules

Posted by Kelly O'Brien on May 18, 2013

15 tips for a better trip, a better business, and a better life

Recently members of Ideaction’s Corps gathered to celebrate and discuss our vision for Ideaction. As part of this broader conversation about where we could go, we challenged ourselves to come up with some “vacation rules.”  We are after all embarking on a journey together. And if you’ve ever travelled with a companion, trust me, your chances of enjoying the trip are exponentially increased if you establish some ground rules before you get on the plane.

As I sat down to review the notes from our meeting, or rather, the picture from our meeting, something occurred to me- the “rules” we had articulated for how our group of like-minded “travelers” could best work together might just be handy for every business, and for that matter, each and every one of us in our daily lives.  For that reason, I think they are share-worthy:

  1. Share your best
  2. Lean toward generosity, give versus take
  3. Treat the Ideaction brand as your own
  4. Be accountable
  5. Start early
  6. Say no when you should
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
  8. Focus on your strengths
  9. Enjoy the process- watch the DNA and culture emerge
  10. Go with the flow, be flexible
  11. Have patience
  12. Be in communication, don’t go dark
  13. Assume good intentions
  14. Be a problem solver, “how can I help you”
  15. Have fun

Kelly O'Brien is the President and Founder of Ideaction Corps, a full service social change agency whose clients include companies and causes doing good. She's passionate about helping people and organizations find the path to work with purpose, big ideas and infecting grace. She can be reached at @kellymobrien or @ideactioncorps on Twitter, or via the Ideaction Corps website.

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Who Was that Masked Brand?

Posted by Nancy Goldstein on April 28, 2013

Who you are matters. Not just what you do or sell, but who you are.

*photo by Kristina Ruth

Big consumer products companies and agencies spend a lot of time talking about defining your brand personality.  So, here’s a fun fact. The word ‘personality’ comes from the latin word ‘persona’, which means ‘mask’.  In most cases, that is what a brand personality is: a mask. And, if you think about it, creating a brand personality doesn’t make sense.  I don’t define my personality as Nancy.  I am Nancy.  That means that everything I do, and don’t do is who I am. Everything.  

In today’s age of Google, people not only research online to understand the companies behind the products, but they share what they have learned.  Through social media, the number of people they can tell is amplified.  So it is no longer enough to just say you have a great new product.  You have to be a great company.  According to the latest Edelman Good Purpose Study, 53% of people say that if quality and price are similar that Social Purpose is the most important factor in brand choice, a growth of 26 percent versus 2008.

So, who are you?  What matters to you as a company?

Patagonia gets it right.  They talk about their mission in terms of “Our Reason for Being.”  Strong words that mean something real. Patagonia’s ‘Reason for Being’ is to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”  It is clear.  I know who they are, and because of this I choose them over other options.

But it isn’t just what they say – it is what they do.  And don’t do.  Their ‘Reason for Being’ is reflected in everything: It is reflected in how they source and manufacture their clothing.  They created Footprint Chronicles, which allows people to track a product’s impact from design through delivery. It is reflected in their efforts to minimize waste and even consumption.  Beyond encouraging customers to make repairs themselves, Patagonia takes back their products even after years of use for free or affordable repair or replacement. They even went so far as to run ads urging people to NOT buy a jacket or anything else that they don’t need.

It is reflected in how they invest their grant and charitable dollars such as participating in 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses that pledge to give 1% of their profits to grassroots environmental groups.  It is reflected in how they treat their employees.  They offer health benefits to everyone, including part-time, retail, and warehouse staff.  They even subsidize child care and counseling. It is even reflected in their corporate governance.  Last year, California passed B Corporation Legislation, allowing corporations to formalize a triple bottom line approach to business (profits, planet and people).  Patagonia was the first in line to register with this new incorporation.

Patagonia doesn’t have an “environmental steward” brand personality.  It is who they are.

So, who are you?  What is your company’s Reason for Being?

How is your Reason for Being reflected in everything you do?Are there aspects of how you act as a company (to your customers, your suppliers, your employees, the planet, etc) that is inconsistent with it?How steps can you begin taking now to bring alignment and consistency into your company?

So go forth.  Remove the mask.  

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